Break Out of Your Old Habits
One of the greatest challenges any musician faces is the plateau. We all know what it is like. You finally start regularly practicing, you make some strong progress with a few things that you always wanted to learn, and then all of a sudden…you stop improving. Every time you sit down to play, nothing new seems to come out. Try as you will, each practice session starts to feel more and more repetitive, mindless – and definitely not useful.
As it turns out, there some great ways to free yourself from this horror. The approaches vary widely, but there are always four basic principles that all of these ways have in common.
Identify and Name What You Are Playing
The first step is always name what you are doing. Are you using a particular scale? A certain set of chords? Do you come back to the same rhythms all the time? Can you name these scales, chords or rhythms? This can be very challenging because it requires stopping, thinking, and doing some honest reflection.
You may need to look up some concepts or find some lessons if you don’t know how to name what you are doing. In the beginning, if you don’t know where to turn, lessons or classes with a qualified teacher can help steer you in the right direction.
Stop Playing What You Identified
This can be the hardest step. It feels good to play things we know because we get a sense of immediate gratification from it, but remember – the goal is to grow. I find the best approach is to start designating a small amount of practice time each day where you do not allow yourself to repeat anything you already know how to play. As you start to practice this way each day, slowly increase the amount of time that you designate for not playing anything you already know.
Eventually, your entire practice routine should consist only of working on what you do not know how to play yet. Why? Because that is the point of practice. To learn something you do not know how to do yet.
Regularly Explore New Techniques or Concepts
As you are developing this practice, make sure you always have something new to focus on during these practice sessions. It can be a technique, a theory concept, a performance approach, anything. Just make sure you are regularly finding these concepts and working on applying them.
An excellent resource for concepts, techniques and performance approaches are music courses. They can be online or in person – whatever motivates you the most. They are often the most useful because they typically organize new ideas in an order that is manageable for your practice sessions.
Finally, once you have created the space in your practice time for new ideas and have found a good set of them to work on, slow down and be patient with yourself. New ideas and techniques are always challenging to learn – but they will never sink in unless you let yourself learn at the pace that you can really take them in. You might even consider taking some time to regularly practice more slowly than you think is required for you to learn well. It is often in that slower practice time that what it really means to master something becomes clear.
That’s it! Name what you are doing, stop doing it, find something new to learn, and then slow down and be patient with yourself. In music, as in all creative work, it is always more about the process and the journey than the destination. No one ever arrives and everyone is always looking over the horizon for the next wonderful, creative idea to explore. Now get to it and have fun!
Break Out of Your Old Habits By Daniel Roberts